“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is usually a good rule—except when it comes to your heating system. Even if it’s humming along just fine, having a technician take it apart once a year to clean the lines and filters and give it a thorough inspection is absolutely essential. Regular servicing reduces the risk of breakdowns and prolongs the unit’s life. Plus, it saves you money: For every year of maintenance you skip, energy bills jump 5% to 10% because of reduced efficiency. Here’s the lowdown on heating system maintenance.
Who does the job?
The simplest way to get the work done is to hire your fuel company to do it. Oil companies and gas utilities usually provide this service, or you can hire the contractor who installed the equipment. Also, some plumbers handle heating systems.
What is involved?
The technician will clean soot and corrosion out of the combustion chamber where the fuel is burned, and check it for leaks or damage. He’ll inspect the flue pipe for open seams, clogs, or corrosion that could cause carbon monoxide to backdraft into the house. He’ll replace the filters on oil and forced-air systems. Finally, he’ll test the exhaust from your cleaned machine and use the information to adjust the burner for maximum efficiency.
How much will it cost?
You’ll pay between $100 and $180 for the service, depending largely on whether you have a gas system, which is easier to maintain, or oil, which requires a fair amount of soot removal. Usually the cost is covered by an annual maintenance contract that also provides 24-hour emergency service. While the technician is there, he should also service your water heater, assuming it has a separate oil or gas burner.
When is the best time to do the work?
Ideally, have your system tuned up in the fall so it’s in top shape for the start of the heating season. Of course, that’s when technicians are the busiest, so if you can’t do it when you want, do it when you can—as long as your system is serviced once a year. And don’t expect your provider to call to remind you that it’s time. Even if you subscribe to an annual service plan, you still need to call to make an appointment. Call in the spring or summer to be sure of getting on the schedule in the fall.